FHDC and biodiversity – our councillors are on the case

June 8, 2019

This week, four of our Green district councillors, Rebecca Shoob, John Wing, Doug Wade and Georgina Treloar, met with Folkestone & Hythe District Council’s Assistant Director for Environmental and Corporate Assets, the Engineering and Buildings Manager, and the Horticultural Manager to get a better picture of where the council is at in terms of carbon reduction and fostering biodiversity. Georgina reports:

We know we’re facing a climate and ecological emergency. Councils all around the country are facing up to the science and taking urgent measures to do their bit. Parliament has declared a climate emergency. But emergency motions aside (for now…) what’s happening on the ground at FHDC in these respects?

Some promising news is that there is a concerted effort to let green spaces grow and flourish to attract biodiversity. Talking with the Horticultural Manager reassured us that there is good work going on in the background here. Green sites, even if left to grow, still need to be managed, this requires work and resources. Examples of good biodiversity management include instances where grounds people will go in and mow/replant to encourage better flower coverage, for instance. We can also appreciate that if left, some sites attract fly tipping, so getting the balance right is important.

An important aspect for us is building environmental consciousness in the community. So, say when an area is left to grow and flower – some residents might see this as neglect. But if we were to put up small signs in the green spaces to let the public know that the area was deliberately left for biodiversity reasons, then residents would start seeing the bigger picture. Happily, the officers we spoke to had had the same idea. So we can expect a visible communications campaign in this respect in the future (we’ll be keeping an eye out).

John, Georgina, Doug and Rebecca to see FHDC’s officers

We got onto glyphosates. The council still uses them. But they told us only when absolutely necessary (you might see it being sprayed on pavements, but we were told this was actually part of Veolia/KCC’s street cleansing remit – so not FHDC). We were told that there are no other viable alternatives. But other councils have eliminated them, so why can’t we?

Alternatives includes high-pressure steaming and even vinegar. People say that with vinegar, the town would end up smelling like a fish and chips shop. But hang on a minute. We’ve completely normalised the toxic fumes of car pollution as an inevitable part of our daily lives. Yet, when it comes to an eco-friendly, readily available solution for weeds, we get funny?

Other good news is that much of the council’s grounds equipment such as hedge trimmers and strimmers are now electric. Apparently some of the bigger equipment isn’t possible to replace with electric. And when asked about the grounds fleet going electric, we were told that the current fleet is only a few years old and it hasn’t previously been financially viable to switch to electric. Next time a fleet replacement programme comes up, we’ll need to get on this.

The electricity supplied to the council is not necessarily renewable and is supplied through a contract based, for a large part, on financial considerations. Renewables are now a competitive option on the market, so we’ll keep at it in this respect. We’re facing catastrophic climate breakdown as a result of burning fossil fuels. Even if a renewables contract isn’t the absolute cheapest option, should we not make choices that recognise the seriousness of the climate and ecological crisis? Not to sound alarmist, but global heating does, you know, threaten the very survival of our civilisation.

Our meeting covered a lot more than what we can cover here. A tree audit, community groups taking ‘ownership’ of green spaces, an online map of green spaces (which we think could, with more development, grow into a really useful engagement tool), Green Gym, etc. Safe to say there’s some really good stuff happening. But we need to keep pushing for more, all the time. Facing up to the the environmental crisis means careful consideration at every turn. (Sadly, our local plan which is currently being reviewed prioritises ‘economic viability’ when it comes to climate policy. Hmmm.)

If you have any questions about the issues raised, or want to know more about the council’s work in these areas, contact any one of your Green councillors and they’ll try everything they can to help. Details can be found on the FHDC website, here.